When Mainstream Menu Items Become Chic – How to Capitalize on Them in Your Restaurant

pork belliesBeen to a trendy restaurant lately and come across pork bellies on the menu? I did, and my food-savvy better half reminded me that this was a pretty way of saying bacon.

Seriously? Bacon is now pork bellies. And, pork is no longer the food of paupers, it’s fine dining. According to a recent Chicago Sun Times article, pork bellies are just the tip of the iceberg on how ordinary foods become chic.

Pork is now chic. And, so are sliders (mini-hamburgers). And French-fried veggies. Hop on over to an “eclectic” restaurant in your city and take a gander at the “new” takes on ordinary foods.

What’s behind these ordinary foods becoming restaurant staples? According to Eleanor Hanson, co-founder of FoodWatch – a trend-consulting firm, there are three roots behind restaurant trends – marketing, immigration and social media.

For instance, Hanson says many of the trends you see today start at as movements. Recent examples include “Meatless Mondays,” “Pork – the Other White Meat,” and now baby carrots – “Eat ‘em like they’re junk.”

Michael Lachowitz, the chef behind Michael in Winnetka, Ill., told the Sun Times, “Trends are driven by fear and the Food Network, which is appalling to me.” He claims that chefs who aren’t confident in their own skills turn to trends.

 And, you’ve seen the increase in comfort food comebacks such as cupcake bars, gourmet burgers and cocktail parties. Hanson says that foods become trendy through “cultural context.” The recession and popularity of shows such as Mad Men point to recent menu trends of “cocktails” and interesting takes on macaroni and cheese.

Three Ways to Capitalize on Food Trends

  1. Use it for promotional purposes. Run a special on a food trend “pork belly tacos” or “sweet potato gratin” to take advantage of the buzz around trendy items. This way you don’t have to reinvent the menu and potentially increase sales. If the special isn’t a success, you’re not losing much by offering a singular special. Or, you can tap into the publicity opportunities around healthy, organic or meatless. Food editors eat this stuff up.
  2. Bake trends into catering or special events. Brides always want the latest cakes, dishes or haute food on their menus. Take a creative approach to these events by offering a trendier menu or showcase your culinary prowess at special charity events by looking at new takes on trendy foods.
  3. Buck the trends. Follow the advice of Lachowitz and stick to your guns. He says he won’t add trendy items for the sake of being trendy. His take on the pork trend? Adding a stuffed pig’s foot dish to his menu just for kicks. He says it won’t sell, but it’s not for the trend; it’s to appease himself and his crew.

How do you make mainstream items chic in your restaurant? Discuss it with our Facebook community.